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#WeAreSwissAbroad Madeleine Weiss: ‘I love life in Indonesia’

Madeleine Weiss

Madeleine Weiss carries a traditional Indonesian tray used for drying herbs and chilies and sifting rice


Madeleine Weiss emigrated to Yogyakarta two years ago with her Indonesian husband and their two sons. The 31-year-old radio journalist and German teacher loves the easy lifestyle in a place that only knows one season. When and why did you leave Switzerland? Are you intending to go back one day? 

Madeleine Weiss: On 30 June 2015, my husband and I took our two small children, who were aged three years and 22 months old, as well as four suitcases and boarded a plane to Indonesia. We did not take much. We had no idea how and where we would live and how we would earn our living. But we were full of optimism and energy, and were ready for a new adventure. 

We intended to stay here for two years. We wanted to live in my husband’s home country, to grow to love it and to give our kids the opportunity to find out what life is like in their second home, far away from well-protected Switzerland. That was our plan. Two years have passed and we are still here. We still plan to go back to Switzerland at some point, however, now we don’t know when that will be.

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( What do you do for living? How did you find your job and how is it going?

M.W.: We run a homestay, which means we rent a room in our house in the Javanese town of Yogyakarta. Every week, travelers from around the world come and stay in our home. My husband works as a tour guide. He drives the tourists around, and picks them up and drops them off wherever they want. I look after the children, the house and garden, and do a million other things at the same time. 

For example, I teach German as a second language at a language institute in Yogyakarta. I write articles for newspapers and send Indonesian food back to Switzerland four times per year. I have also just finished translating an Indonesian cook book into German. Where exactly do you live and what is life like there?

M.W.: We live next to a gigantic rice field on the edge of Yogyakartaexternal link, which is not to be confused with the big, grey capital of Jakarta. Yogyakarta is much smaller, greener and more rural. Life happens a lot more slowly here, but it is also full of contrasts. On one hand, Yogyakarta has managed to keep up many of the old Javanese traditions; on the other, the city’s good, and well-known universities have attracted a lot of young people to move here. This is where old meets new, which makes this town so creative and lively. I love life here. What is Indonesian cuisine like?

M.W.: It’s very different from the Swiss cuisine. There are literally no dairy products available and if you happen to find some, they are excruciatingly expensive. A piece of Gruyere cheese, which big supermarkets sometimes stock in their international product section, can cost up to CHF10 ($10). Considering that the average monthly income in Indonesia is CHF100, that is a lot of money. 

It’s hard to get cheese here; sometimes I even dream about different kinds of cheeses smiling at me from the shelves in the endlessly long aisles in Swiss supermarkets like Migros or Coop.

Familie mit zwei Buben in einem Taxi

Madeleine Weiss with her husband Ari and their two children

(zVg) What do you like more about Indonesia than Switzerland? What is the biggest difference between the two countries?

M.W.: We don’t have the four seasons we have in Switzerland. It is hot all through the year and the temperatures don’t really change. Occasionally, we get a bit of rain, however, it doesn’t cool down. 

Even though I had never considered myself as one of those people wanting to emigrate to another country for the weather, I must say I really appreciate the Indonesian climate. It makes life a lot less complicated. 

First, you need fewer clothes. I share a small shelf for my clothes with my husband, and that’s enough. After all, we don’t need jackets, socks or jumpers in Indonesia. Living with such few things is a luxury for me, which I would struggle to give up. What’s your view on Switzerland from afar?

M.W.: Switzerland is my home. That is where I come from. That is where my parents, my sisters and my friends live. That’s why I love Switzerland, and I miss it massively at times. 

I love the clean rivers and lakes you can jump in during summer. It doesn’t matter whether it’s somewhere in the middle of nowhere or right in the centre of a town. It would be wonderful if we could swim in the rivers of Yogyakarta. Unfortunately, this is simply unthinkable due to the rubbish, which is being dumped in the river every day.

Madeleine Weiss inmitten ihrer zahlreichen Nachbarinnen und Nachbarn

Madeleine Weiss (middle) with her neighbours

(zVg) What does the political landscape look like in Indonesia? Are you interested in Indonesian politics?

M.W.: Yes, I am interested in Indonesian politics. I like listening to the news on the radio. If my Indonesian is not good enough to understand the ins and outs, I ask my husband to explain it to me in more detail. What I am most fascinated about is Indonesia’s healthy patriotism. I don’t think I would ever hoist a Swiss flag on Swiss national day, however, here in Indonesia I do it, like everyone else. People proudly celebrate their nation’s birthday and they do it by playing games, organising competitions and just spending quality time with each other. Do you vote in Swiss elections or popular votes? Do you vote by mail or electronically?

M.W.: Being a Swiss abroad, voting in elections and popular votes in Switzerland is really important for me. Unfortunately, the voting documents sometimes do not arrive in time for me to return them to Switzerland in time for the elections or popular votes, which is a shame. I hope that I will soon be able to use e-voting.

Madeleine Weiss mit Sohn auf einem Scooter

Madeleine Weiss goes shopping with her eldest son

(zVg) What do you miss most about Switzerland?

M.W.: In summer, I miss the long days and swimming in our crystal-clear lakes; in autumn, I miss drinking our freshly fermented young grape wine (Sauser) and the brightly coloured forests; in winter, I miss the stillness when the snow falls and being wrapped up in a cosy duvet; and in spring, I miss the fresh air and the lush blooming fruit trees.

Frau vor Tempel

Temples can be found everywhere in the Yogyakarta area


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